Thursday, April 02, 2020

Cancelled flights: Airlines offer option of future travel

New Delhi: The corona crisis is proving to be such an existential crisis for airlines that they, in perhaps a first, are unable to give refunds for flights cancelled. Over the years, the thumb rule had been passengers get a cancellation fee deducted in their refunds if they choose to not take the trip. But if a flight is cancelled not by them, passengers get a full refund. Both schedule domestic and international flights were suspended after the third week of March and are supposed to resume on April 14-15 midnight, as of now unless the lockdown is further extended.

The corona epidemic has changed that with airlines facing a run on the bank situation. They are only getting demands for refund (withdrawals) with hardly any new bookings (fresh deposits, in banking equivalence). As a result to avoid running out of cash, almost all Indian carriers are telling passengers the fare they have paid for the cancelled flights is being converted into a pre-paid voucher that can be used for travel at any later date upto a year (varying periods for different airlines). Fare difference, if any of the future date chosen, will need to be paid.

And passengers who insist on a refund are being asked to take hefty deduction as cancellation charges. Travellers are furious as they say the flight they booked on has not been cancelled by them and are asking why should they suffer. “There was a wedding in the family that I needed to attend in March-end for which I booked five tickets for self and family. The Delhi-Bengaluru-Delhi flights I booked for Rs 68,000 have been cancelled and I want a refund. The airlines is deducting almost 30% as cancellation fee and giving me the option of travelling later by using this Rs 68,000. The wedding has taken place and I don’t need to go again,” said Delhi-based businessman Aman Varma.

Given the massive and unprecedented uncertainty, government agencies have not intervened in this issue so far. The government has got SOS from aviation stakeholders — airlines and airport operators — to continue operations.

Indian carriers, on their part, say they are fighting an unprecedented battle for survival. Very few like Vistara and IndiGo have paid March salaries to staff. GoAir and SpiceJet have paid only a fraction of March salary to most employees. Air India, whose crew is being applauded for operating dozens of evacuation flights to corona hotspots, has not even paid January’s flying allowance to crew members — which accounts for 70% of a pilot’s pay.
02/04/20 Saurabh Sinha/Times of India
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